If you’ve ever done it you know, traveling with a child can be a nightmare. I’m specifically talking about air travel here. The length of time you’re required to spend at the airport in multiple lines, sitting on the plane in the heat not going anywhere, and then the actual traveling part. You will more than likely find yourself in an awkward position or two with TSA agents. People will judge. Your child will be loud, and depending on their age, say inappropriate things. The seat in front of you will be kicked and used as a device for climbing from your arms no less than one million times.
I’m not going to say I’m the most traveled person in the world or anything, but I do feel like my intense desire to plan for potentially awkward situations has made me a pretty smooth traveler. The easiest thing I discovered is to just make it easy for yourself. You’re running the show so you’ve got to be happy.
I have traveled alone with one child at 3 months, 9 months, and 1 year (and a bunch of times with help including internationally). Those three ages, as you know, are incredibly different just when it comes to the types of things you need to carry with you on a daily basis. Air travel is no different. For the first two years of your child’s life, literally every flight will be like the first for you.
Pre Flight This is really short and simple, but traveling starts before the big day. Not all ticket websites let you put infant/lap child on your itinerary. Don’t panic. You can still make reservations online. After you’ve made reservations for everyone that needs a seat, call the airline and add the lap child. It’s free unless you’re traveling internationally. Your kid can sit on your lap until he’s 2. Some airlines do offer a discounted seat for a child if they’re over 2 and require a seat, but it’s very little. It’s not like your seat will be $250 and his will be $25. I’ll probably be more like $249.50.
When I make my reservations, I always do layovers too. It probably seems like making your day all about flying is worse than just hurrying up and getting there, but I find it so much better to get on and off the plane. Everyone gets a chance to move around, plus each flight is relatively short and so there’s less time for you and your kid to freak out. Just be smart. An hour to an hour and half is a good layover. You just want enough time to get off and get back on. Maybe go to the bathroom and change your child like a civilized person in a somewhat normal bathroom and not in the washing machine they call the airplane lavatory. Lisa’s words. I loved them. Great comparison.
Choose seats wisely. If I’m traveling alone I choose the aisle seat and if I’m traveling with “helpers” I choose the window and middle seats. This is all assuming you’ve got a lap child. Basically, if there’s only one adult you want access to the aisle easily, but when you have someone to help you that gives you more space to move and the kids really love the window. Why not always choose the aisle? If your former childless self hasn’t been paying attention during flight announcements you may not know that you are not allowed to walk up and down the aisle with your child anymore. Wah wah! I also like to sit in the back of the plane, but that’s my preference. I find its closer to the bathroom and it’s kind of the party area back there. People are usually a little more relaxed. That’s your jam! Relaxed travelers!
Packing Do not let yourself fall apart before you even get on the plane. Start by giving yourself enough time to pack. I never take a diaper bag on the plane because there’s never enough dividers and diaper bags are truly the biggest black hole. I never met a diaper bag I liked. Truly! As vast as the baby market is, there are only a few things out there that actually don’t suck! Use a carry on bag with ample zippers, pockets, dividers, etc. If it won’t fit under the seat in front of you, it’s too big. This will be your diaper bag for the entire trip so make sure you can handle it. Remember that traveling alone or with multiple other “helpers”, you will be doing almost everything one handed. If you can’t get your diaper stuff out of your bag with one hand, or get the blanket back in the bag with one hand, you’re screwed. Store as many things as possible in separate plastic zipper bags. It makes it really easy because not only are small things contained, but that plastic slides great along the fabric on the inside of the bag and you aren’t without many disposable bags if there are “accidents”. Having everything divided up in bags is also really handy when the TSA agent on a power trip chooses your bags to empty onto the conveyor belt.
If you’re traveling internationally, take a change of clothes for yourself. Otherwise, deal with it.
Take only what you need and be realistic. You do not need 5 changes of clothes for your kid. One will do. Layer your kids too. You can peel a layer off if they puke or spill.
You do not need an entire package of diapers and wipes. A small stack and travel wipes container will do. And, for goodness sake, pack those diapers and wipes in something easily removable from your bag. You are not going to be able to fit your entire bag into the airplane lavatory and yourself and baby.
Take enough formula and baby food for your travel as planned, and then add one extra serving of each in case of a delay. Beyond that, scour the airport. You’re bound to find someone who can help you. Worst case scenario, milk and applesauce never killed anyone. Keep in mind that just because you are traveling with a child, security will not let just anything through. When I traveled to NYC with my 15 month old, I brought enough of those food pouches for our entire trip because I knew we were going to be doing a lot of sightseeing and I wasn’t sure about suitable food availability for a child his age at the times he may need to eat. Plus, my sister lived in kind of a weird area and I didn’t even know how easily accessible a grocery store would be. Well, the TSA agent told me I could only take on enough food as was necessary for my flight. She jacked about 20 of those pouches from me.
If your kid is of the age where they can focus on stuff, look at books, etc. buy them something new. If they’ve never seen it before they’re more likely to pay attention for about 15 minutes. Buy only one thing because, to be real, they probably won’t care anyway.
Take more than one pacifier. There’s nothing worse than dropping it and having it bounce three rows back and land under the feet of the guy who’s been snoring since you boarded the plane. Make sure it has a clip too.
Pack a to-go coffee cup and reusable water bottle. The to-go cup is for you to transfer your airport or airplane coffee into a child safe cup. The reusable water bottle is to save yourself $5 at the airport. Plus, they both double as toys for the kiddo.
If your kids are a little older, don’t forget the iPad and headphones (they make volume limiting ones) and as many tiny snacks as possible. All that crumbly messy stuff. Just keep feeding them. I don’t think my kids have actually ever eaten a meal on travel day. It’s all about constant small amounts of tasty stuff.
The airlines will let you check your car seat and annoyingly large stroller for free if you need to. I’ve never done it.
And finally, a cheap umbrella stroller. If your kid can hold his head up, then the umbrella stroller will help a lot for being able to put the baby down and have free hands. It does have to go through the x-ray machine so don’t hang stuff all over it. If you find yourself hanging crap all over the stroller, then you haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said.
What do you pack in your carry on bag that is a must every time you fly?